Quebec to appeal ethics course exemption

The Quebec government will appeal a Superior Court ruling allowing a Jesuit Catholic school the right to opt out of a provincial ethics course.

School sought to teach course from a Catholic perspective

The Quebec government will appeal a Superior Court ruling granting a Jesuit Catholic school the right to opt out of a controversial ethics and morality course, says Premier Jean Charest.

Loyola High School in Montreal challenged a provincially required ethics course on religious grounds. ((CBC))
Loyola High School, a private institution in Montreal's west end, sought the court's support in its fight against a provincial government order requiring the course be taught in its classrooms.

In a decision handed down Friday, Justice Gérard Dugré agreed with Loyola's opposition to teaching the course on the grounds of religious freedom.

Loyola argued the course was redundant because the school already offers instruction on ethics and morality from a Catholic point of view.

Quebec's Education Ministry violated Loyola's freedom of religion as guaranteed by the provincial charter of rights, Dugré said in his decision.

The debate over religion-based schools in Quebec has been ongoing since the 1970s, Charest told reporters in Laval on Monday. He said an appeal of the decision was needed, "given the importance of this issue."

Appeal was expected

The premier's opinion was seconded by Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

"It is up to parents and the church to transmit faith. Schools must transmit knowledge," she said.

"If Loyola wants to teach religion outside of the curriculum, while teaching the ethics and religious culture course — no problem."

Officials at the school said they were not surprised the government would choose to appeal the ruling.

"I don't think the issues are resolved," said school principal Paul Donovan. "There are questions that have to be asked and we're ready to ask those questions.
Loyola principal Paul Donovan says the school is not surprised by the government's decision to appeal the ruling. (CBC)

"We tell our kids in this school that when there are things that are not clear or that are not just, that you have to stand up and say something."

The school said it had approached the government hoping to demonstrate that its own version of the ethics course was just as complete as the one imposed by the Education Ministry.

"I think the biggest frustration for us was the non-responsiveness. It took five months for them to respond to our first letter," said Donovan.

Parents pleased

The court's support reassured Theresa Murphy, whose son graduated from Loyola last week.

Her son took a world religion course at Loyola that is taught from a Catholic perspective, and she believes he received a sound education.

"This way, [they] can continue to learn and [practice] their faith, while learning that they can serve all others in society," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Daybreak.

The ruling was also welcomed by Quebec's Coalition for Liberty in Education, which has been fighting the course since it was introduced.

The government should leave religious education to parents, said coalition spokesman Richard Décarie.

The problem with the course is that children will be torn between what is being taught by their parents and what is taught in the classroom, he said.

Quebec's Secular Movement expressed concern about the ruling, which it said sets a double standard.

"That exemption can provide to the private schools a right that students who are in the public schools cannot have," said spokesperson Marie-Michelle Poisson.

Quebec introduced the mandatory ethics course last year to replace religious instruction from Grade 1 to Grade 11.

The non-denominational curriculum surveys the main religions practised in Quebec, including Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism and aboriginal spirituality.

The province's Liberal government introduced a law in 2005 to craft the course and called it a "significant turning point" in its modern educational history.

Protestant and Catholic school boards were dissolved in 1998 and replaced with linguistically based ones.